The Band of Heathens Find Themselves Again with ‘Simple Things’

The deafening hum of the crowd quiets, glasses cease to clink as patient instruments begin to buzz to life and a figure approaches the beer-soaked mic. From the makeshift stage pours a dirty sound and a desperation to make something out of nothing.

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The Band of Heathens did their time as a local bar band. For years, they were permanent fixtures in some of Austin, Texas’ favorite haunts. They cut their teeth in these places, howling to the bleary-eyed masses, pouring out their hearts to strangers drowning their own. It was a simpler time then, one of pure freedom and the unquenchable desire to just play.

Now, the prodigal sons of rock have returned to those barroom roots with their ninth studio album, Simple Things. In truth, that never really left, they’ve just rediscovered it along the way.

“Like the rest of the world, we had all the things we love taken away from us,” co-frontman Gordy Quist tells American Songwriter. “It kind of forced us to go inside and slow down and kind of take stock of what’s important.”

During the pandemic, the band was able to take a step back and see from the inside out what the last two decades had been like—constantly touring, and consistently recording as an independent band. “It just helped put some things into clearer focus for us,” co-lead Ed Jurdi adds of that time. “When all the things we love were taken away from us, we had an opportunity to sort of refocus … I think it just became more present how much we love playing music and getting to do that for our life.”

This time not only offered introspection for the Austin-formed outfit, but it also provided a clear direction forward. And for them, the only way forward was back.

The band—members now scattered across the country—returned to their Austin origins in order to record Simple Things. A return to the city was crucial to the life of the album, and being back in the arms of the music town was what fostered the deeply personal record. The band felt comfortable creating there, working through their “let’s see where this goes” kind of laid-back but assured writing and production style. The result was a birth of lyric and sound that seemed almost instinctual.

“This record probably more than any other record, the songs seemed to take shape really quickly,” Quist explains.

“It was very natural,” Jurdi adds. “Everything just kind of flowed out from a very easy place. Rather than questioning that … we kind of went with it.” He says, in the end, it felt like all the dots connected, remarking, “There’s really nowhere else that would could have done the record.”

The process resulted in a tough, confident album—ten tracks full of attitude and defiance that harken back to their humble beginnings and revisit their rugged barroom rock sound. Jurdi describes the record as “a culmination of all of our experiences that we’ve had coupled with a rebirth and a renewal in what we’re doing.”

Opening with the triumphant, gospel-tinged “Don’t Let the Darkness,” the album carries a throughline of survival, a theme that continues to vibrate into the following track, “Heartless Year.” It’s been a heartless year, but we’re still hanging on / Gonna face our fears, gonna right these wrongs / I gotta laugh to hold back my tears / Crawling from a train wreck waiting out a heartless year, they sing, against lush electricity and a stomping beat.

Already powerful lyrics, on songs “Stormy Weather,” “Damaged Goods,” and “I Got the Time,” are emboldened by the duo’s muscular country-blues-rock vocals. Coming to a close with “All That Remains,” Simple Things blows listeners the perfect goodbye kiss of dreamy melody and bittersweet sage lyricism.

“We’ve made a whole bunch of different kinds of records,” Jurdi explains. “Some very sonically adventurous things. I think this record, to my ears at least, best sort of captures all of our experiences. The enthusiasm that we had when we first started as a band is present again in this music.”

While they’ve experienced a sonic rediscovery of sorts, their staunchly independent spirit has never left them. From day one, the band has been ardent about achieving success by their merit alone. They’ve turned down label deals in order to make music on their own terms, maintain control of their work, and earn each fan one performance at a time. In 17 years, the band has accomplished the virtually unheard of. They have become award-winning, gold-certified, streaming giants as outliers of the music industry machine.

“I feel like there are a bunch of artists out there waving this outlaw flag really hard, and talking about how independent they are and how outlaw they are,” Quist says of the parroters with major label deals. “For us, we’ve been maybe the most independent band I can think of.”

They’ve never asked permission, and their gutsy sound had been fostered by that very spirit. It’s something that echoes throughout each Simple Things track today.

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen / Big Feat PR

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